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Just when you thought things in Syria could not get any worse

Mass population transfer

The way Middle East expert Mordechai Kedar paints it, the last thing Israel has to worry about in Syria is a major Iranian military presence there. Iran, in partnership with Syria’s titular ruler, Bashar Assad, have much bigger plans in mind.

As an Alawite, Assad is a Shiite Muslim. Prof. Kedar sees Assad planning to drive out millions of the remaining Sunni Muslims in Syria and replace them with millions of Shiite Muslims, thus transforming Syria at its root, creating a “Shiite crescent” in the Middle East and constituting a threat to Israel that dwarfs previous Syrian threats.

Kedar says that Assad has ordered all Syrians to prove within 30 days that they own real estate in Syria. Well, millions of Syrians are in internal exile, far from their homes; and even if they could get back to their homes, where ownership documents once were, they have probably been destroyed. That is why Syrians fled their homes in the first place — to save themselves from the bombing and the gassing by the regime.

Something like 10 million people — half of the population — can’t possibly prove their ownership within a month.

This 30-day demand, says Kedar, is the first step toward a major planned population transfer of Shiite Muslims from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to Syria in order to change the nature of the population from Sunni to Shia.

Kedar, a former intelligence chief in the Israel Defense Forces for 25 years, and now a Middle East academic at Bar Ilan University, was in Denver this week for a public lecture at BMH-BJ under the auspices of Action Israel.

Kedar was on a month-long speaking tour taking him to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the University of California at Davis and Berkeley; Montreal, Toronto and Miami.

The US embassy move

This is very important. A tremendous contribution to peace. Peace in the Middle East is given only to a state which is viewed as powerful, invincible and too dangerous to mess with.

“If all the embassies move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, our enemies will understand that their war against us has failed; that the whole world supports Israel’s existence of Israel and recognizes Jerusalem’s centrality to Israel.”

I ask: “But the move has caused resentment in the Arab world.”

Kedar answers: “The Arab world doesn’t want Israel to exist altogether. This is not news to us, that our enemies are angry. OK, we can live with this. This is actually how we’ve lived for 70 years.

“They didn’t like us before the state was established in 1948. They massacred Jews in Palestine in 1920, 1921, 1929, way before Israel was established. They don’t want us altogether.”

Is Saudi Arabia changing its views?

Saudi Arabia did not join the peace which we signed with Egypt in 1979, nor with Jordan when it made peace with us in 1994.

“Saudi Arabia today seeks Israel’s goodwill not because it loves Mordechai but because it hates Haman. Saudi Arabia is looking for an ally with which to confront Iran. Israel, which feels threatened by Iran, is a natural partner for this purpose. Nothing but.

“Politics in the Middle East are based on sand dunes, which change their position according to the matzav ru’ach, the shifting moods and winds. So we shouldn’t get carried away by some smiles or handshakes by people who are shaking and shivering because of the Iranian threat.

“Egyptians and Jordanians made peace with us because of their domestic reasons. Egypt needed European financial support and the Europeans made a condition: finish the problem with Israel first.

“King Hussein of Jordan needed Israel in order to confront his Arab enemies: Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hafez Assad of Syria. There is no love in the Middle East, only interests. Unfortunately.

“Israel has a basic problem of legitimacy: Judaism, according to Islam, is null and void. Jews are not a nation, but communities which belong to other nations all over the world and Eretz Yisrael is actually Palestine, a holy endowment to Islam. So can Israel be recognized by Arabs and Muslims?

“They will accept us only if we are powerful, supported by other countries and too dangerous to mess with.”

IDF intelligence

Prof. Kedar is chock full of inside information and creative analysis on Israel and the Middle East not only about current matters, such as the charm offensive of Saudi Arabia, but about stories of botched intelligence delivery before  the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Kedar got into military intelligence when he was a teenager. He and a group of friends made it a point to study Arabic from the age of 13 on.

When they joined the IDF, Kedar right away became the head of a branch, “Unit 8200,” a parallel of America’s National Security Agency.

He stayed in this position for 25 years and “more than loved” every minute of it. He compared his time there to Jacob’s need to work seven more years for Rachel, which, however, seemed to pass in a blink due to his love for her. Kedar says his 25 years as head of Unit 8200 went by in a blink.

He loved it because “we brought so much clandestine information about Arab countries to the State of Israel about the most crucial topics and issues. I personally know about some of the information we brought which was taken to the prime minister himself.”

Kedar’s mother tongue was Yiddish, though he was fluent in Arabic from the time he was a teenager, Kedar described his work in IDF intelligence as combining Arabic, statistics, mathematics and computers.

“We tried to understand what our enemies tried to hide from us.

“Because in the Middle East war never finishes. There is constant war between brains. They try to hide, we try to discover about their  communications, headquarters, army maneuvers and plans.”

He retired from the IDF only “because the people they brought in were brighter than myself. So I went to the university.” In fact, while in the IDF, he earned a MA and PhD in Middle East studies.


When Kedar graduated from a modern Orthodox high school in Tel Aviv (nicknamed Zeitlin) at age 18, he was one of 13 students who were “very good” at Arabic.

They had already read parts of the Koran in Arabic; parts of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed and Bachya ibn Pakuda’s Duties of the Heart (both written in Arabic); some of the Hadith (Islamic oral traditions); and modern and classical Arabic literature (the two are so different as to be considered virtually two different languages), and Arabic newspaper articles.

Kedar and his fellow intelligence officers did not develop speaking skills in Arabic. They didn’t need them for their intelligence work. They listened to the spoken language and read it.

“I developed speaking skills in Arabic after I got out of the army because I was approached by media outlets like Israel Radio in Arabic, BBC, Israel TV in Arabic and later Al Jazeera.”

Blocked intelligence before the Yom Kippur War

In 1973, Kedar’s unit uncovered information about the forthcoming Yom Kippur War, ahead of the war. It erupted around 2 p.m. on Yom Kippur, a Saturday.

“Thirty hours in advance, my unit was already functioning in a war format because of the material which we saw through the night between the previous Thursday and Friday.

“However, beyond my unit, one man at intelligence headquarters blocked the information because of a bad experience he had had six months earlier. Back then, Egypt and Syria prepared a war, but we discovered it. The IDF ‘rang the bell’ and mobilized all the reserve units. When Egypt and Syria realized that the IDF had called up the reserves, they postponed the war.

“This man was viewed as a false alarmist, so he blocked the pre-Yom Kippur information. He didn’t want mud all over his face again.”

Later, the Agranat Commission, which investigated why Israel got caught by surprise in the Yom Kippur War, expelled this intelligence chief, Eli Zei’ra. (The main victim of the commission was an otherwise celebrated officer, David Elazar, commander of the Southern Command.)

Later, after the war, the commander of Unit 8200 said that he had no idea that the information  which the unit passed along to headquarters had been blocked.

“After the war, he said with tears, that had he known that the information was blocked he would have taken it himself and directly to Golda [Meir, prime minister], kicked her door and put it on her desk.”

“In the early 1970s, Israel had an ombudsman for soldiers. At first it was Gen. Laskov. He dealt with an issue, which was to humiliate and punish soldiers by ordering them to wear a helmet even when they ate. “This was the way to ‘educate’ them.” Laskov fought against this.

“On the Thursday before the Yom Kippur War he visited units in the Sinai Peninsula and saw soldiers going around with helmets.

“He asked the commander, why are you hazing your soldiers for no reason? ‘We have information about an approaching war and this is a defensive step. It’s not against the soldiers. It’s justified.’”

Laskov later sat on the Agranat Commission investigating the war.

The commander walked in and Laskov said to the other members: “This man told me two days before the war about the impending war.”

Assad’s search for legitimacy

My doctoral dissertation was about the political language of the Syrian media — how they prostituted the Arabic language for the purposes of the Assad regime.

“This regime had a big sense of illegitimacy; everything it wrote was meant to create legitimacy for Hafez Assad and his regime, from scratch.

“This regime is a regime of Alawites, who are a minority viewed by Muslims as idol worshippers who do not have the right to rule Muslims, and there is even a question whether they have a right to live. According to Islam, idol worshippers have the choice between converting to Islam or being beheaded.”

Kedar’s dissertation, Assad in Search of Legitimacy: Message and Rhetoric in the Syrian Press under Hafez and Bashar, was published in 2005 in English by Sussex Academic Press,

Kedar has since broadened his scope to include other arenas in the Arab world: Islam, Islamic extremism and terror, gender issues in Islam, and mass media in the Arab world.

He is now writing a book with the working title, Alive and Killing — Tribalism in the Modern Arab World.

He decided to write the book after learning that family issues, clan issues and tribal issues play a very important role in the decision-making and even in state structure in the Arab world.

“Usually, this aspect is either unknown or ignored by Westerners.”

What I would do in Syria

I would divide Syria into homogenous states, Kurdish, Alawite, Druze and so forth. Because whenever you put together different groups, as happened in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Algeria and other countries, you get mayhem.

“Only homogenous states in the Middle East, like the Gulf emirates, are stable and flourishing.

“The Alawites would get 10% of Syria as they are 10% of the population.

“In 2011 [when the Syrian civil war began], I published a provisional map of Syria, predicting what it would look like after it became divided. In those days we didn’t see ISIS yet or the Russian intervention. But today, Syria is divided: Russia controls the Alawite district on the seashore. Turkey took part of Syria in the north in order to prevent a Kurdish state on its border. Iran took part of the desert (central and eastern Syria). The Druze in the south control their lives by themselves (not far from Israel).

“And don’t forget, Israel took part of Syria — the Golan Heights — 50 years ago.

“Although Assad still carries the title ‘president’ of Syria, he has very little to say about what happens in the country. The proof is that at the conference in Istanbul last  week about the future of Syria, which included Putin, Rouhani of Iran and Erdogan of Turkey, Assad was not even invited.”

Assad’s long-range plan

We in Israel could live with Russia near us, or Turkey near us, but we cannot agree to Iran settling in Syria.

“The reason is clear. So far there have been two rounds of violence between the Sunni population of Syria and the Alawite regime:

“1. 1976-1982. This cost some 50,000 lives.

“2. 2011-present. This cost more than 500,000 lives, most of whom were Sunni.

“To prevent Round 3 in a generation, the Assad regime and the Iranians have decided to change the population.

“After the regime confiscates the Syrian Sunni Muslims’ assets, the regime can give them to whomever they want. When half a million Syrians got killed, no one did anything. So when assets are confiscated, people will start acting?

“What Israel is doing in Syria is directly connected to Israel’s security, such as destroying weapons, which are being given to Hezbollah.

“Israel doesn’t see itself in a position to influence the domestic issues of Syria. What can we do there? Americans are not acting. Russians are fighting with the regime, and the Iranians as well.

“Israel last night bombed the T-4 air base where the Iranians are operating freely — in the Syrian desert. Israel admitted it took care of some Iranian targets.”

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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